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The amendment to the Law on Electronic Media does not solve the problem of "public officials' campaign"

The provision of the Law on Electronic Media, passed today, even with the amendment that was adopted by the Parliamentary Information Committee – allegedly to fulfil the ODIHR recommendation – does not solve the problems related to the promotional activities of public officials and does not represent the fulfilment of the ODIHR recommendation. That amendment also does not prohibit "functionary campaigns", as claimed by some deputies at the committee meeting.

As the Transparency of Serbia also pointed out before the previous election, no provision of media laws could solve the problem of functionary campaigns: it must be done in the Law on Prevention of Corruption and other regulations governing public officials. In addition, the alleged ban in the Law on Electronic Media is flawed in many ways: it refers only to some activities, of only some public officials, which are promoted through only one type of media and only in a part of the election campaign.

Thus, this provision prohibits TV and radio stations from reporting from particular activities, but such a prohibition does not exist for online media and newspapers. Reporting on the ceremonial opening of infrastructure facilities is forbidden, but not when officials are touring works or facilities are ačready in operation. The ban will apply 30 days before the election, while the election campaign lasts between 45 and 60 days. Finally, this restriction applies only to candidates for deputies and councillors. As a result, in the upcoming expected December elections, the "ban" will not include reporting on the activities of the President of Serbia (whose name will be on the electoral list, to make the absurdity even greater), members of the Government and acting directors of public companies who will not be candidates for parliament and councillors, as well as the activities of the heads of the city municipalities in Belgrade.

One of the ODIHR's recommendations does refer to the extension of the "ban" of media reporting on officials' activities, but ODIHR clearly stated that this should be done "for the duration of the campaign". A bigger problem is that the Government did nothing on the recommendations defined as priorities. Among them is the "review of regulations related to the abuse of administrative resources" (number 1) and taking measures to prevent the abuse of official positions and public resources, where it is requested that the law ensure a clear separation between official functions and pre-election activities of function holders (number 4).

The monitoring of the "functionary campaign", carried out by Transparency Serbia in all elections since 2012, shows that public officials participate in numerous promotional activities during the campaign, the sole purpose of which is to enable them to appear in media reports outside the blocs edicated to election campaign and thus promote a political option voters identify them with. The number of those activities during the campaign is many times higher than the number of similar activities in the same period of the previous non-election year, which confirms that these are "events" created exclusively for promotional purposes.

Transparency Serbia recalls that the unresolved problems, in addition to the abuse of public resources and functionary campaigns, are largely related to the financing of election campaigns. Although the essential recommendation of the ODIHR was to start the reform process "well before the next elections" "within an inclusive and transparent consultative process", the Government has not undertaken any legislative activity to fulfil the recommendations from July 2022. to this very day.